Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Street Like Any Other, A House Like No Other

Peñalolén—Avenida José Arrieta 8401, Santiago, Chile.  Villa Grimaldi, now named the Park of Peace.

It was not a park of peace for the thousands of political prisoners who were taken there and tortured during the military dictatorship in Chile under Augusto Pinochet.  More than two hundred are known to have been executed there.

Note the neighbors' houses behind the wall.

The Chilean Army took over this large house and enclosed grounds, and its special intelligence unit DINA used Villa Grimaldi as a torture and detention center for several years.  Before leaving, they destroyed the main house which had been converted to a cell block.  The cell locations are now marked with brick outlines, and a single tree grows in each one.   A great deal of information about Villa Grimaldi, DINA, and Operation Condor is available on the web, and so I won’t go into that here.

Carmen Bueno was executed here.

 Who was Claudia Valenzuela?  I don’t know.  She is not here to tell us.

How does a horror like this get started?  I am sure that is a complex question, but I believe that one pre-condition is usually there:  An organization with power that believes it is the repository of national honor, pride, and identity.  One that believes that those who disagree with their point of view are outright traitors to their country.   Read Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here.

Avenida José Arrieta—a street like any other.  Villa Grimaldi—a house like no other.  I wish that second part were true.  As many as 10,000 Chileans disappeared at the hands of their armed forces and their police during the dictatorship, and in Argentina, that number is 30,000.  Some claim that those figures are exaggerated. 

But it doesn’t really matter, because one single victim is too many.  And there were many Villa Grimaldis, here and elsewhere.  Still are.